This is not about defending torture. It’s about defending history.
And maybe a little bit about preserving the future.
First, some facts. The CIA held about a hundred detainees from 2002 to 2008; about a third of them underwent interrogations that have been variously described as enhanced, tough or torture. The toughest technique was water boarding, used on three detainees, the last in early 2003. At the other end of the spectrum was grabbing a detainee’s chin or collar. In between were things like being limited to a liquid diet of about 1400 calories day.
If you think any of these objectively constitute torture, I respect your position. It is a principled one. Torture is always wrong.
The just-released Senate Democrat report on CIA detentions and interrogations, however, avoids arguments about narrow legal definitions. Its case is more expansive: not just that this program was wrong, but that it was ineffective, mismanaged and instituted by a rogue Agency that consistently lied about it
SEE ALSO: Islamic militant groups mum on ‘torture report’ detailing CIA interrogation tactics
On the first point, it needs be said that on multiple occasions all of the techniques were determined lawful by the Department of Justice and judged appropriate for the circumstances after 9/11.
The CIA briefed Congressional leadership multiple times. The briefings were detailed and graphic. The briefers held nothing back. Nor did Senators, who asked, among other things, whether the CIA had the authorities it needed. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the panel, herself said that, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”
With regard to effectiveness, those responsible for the program confirm that this was successful. It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives (including helping to find Osama bin Laden); added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization; and led to the disruption of terrorist plots, saving American and allied lives.
The Senate Democrat document, however, denies such credit and reads like a shrill prosecutorial screed rather than a dispassionate historical study. The staff started with a conclusion and then cherry picked their way through six million pages, ignoring some data and highlighting others, to make their case — the very definition of politicization. The report is exceedingly graphic; it is designed to shock and it does.
CIA officers are understandably upset by their portrayal in the Senate Intelligence Committee document. Since no CIA officers were interviewed, it’s as if they have been tried and convicted in absentia, without a defense, and no discovery process where evidence is revealed and contested.
They fear for their security and that of their families and indeed the CIA has offered them guidance on remaining safe. Local police departments have been alerted. Overseas travel plans are being reconsidered.
SEE ALSO: John Brennan: Senate report on CIA interrogations ‘flawed’
The sense of increased danger ranges well beyond Langley to Americans and U.S. installations abroad, a reality emphasized by the director of national intelligence and the secretary of state, even if the latter’s spokeswoman tried to walk back the call he made to Mrs. Feinstein, apparently to remind her that this was a dangerous world.
With these kinds of predictable outcomes, one wonder why some Democrats — Sens. Feinstein, Ron Wyden of Oregan, Mark Udall of Colorado, Martin Heinrich of Nevada and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia — so strongly championed releasing the report.
I know what they have said. America needs to know. This must never happen again.
But most Americans don’t seem to really want to know, or to know more than they already do. And as far as happening again, given how the CIA has been treated, the next president who wants to water board somebody will have to do it himself.
So what is it?
Well, by chance, I was in New Haven last month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of classic conservative writer James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West.” Burnham believed that guilt was integral to liberalism and that it drives much of progressive thought.
“Guilt, when it becomes obsessive for the liberal, flowers as a generalized hatred for his own country and the wider civilization of which it is a part,” Burnham wrote.
That is a pretty powerful observation and I don’t have the expertise to impute that dynamic to current circumstances. But there is a milder corollary that’s looking pretty likely here.
I can just picture those who really pushed this release, in their quiet moments, thinking that this earns for them a sense of expiation, that they have done the right thing.
The dark side of that is that they get to say, and say publicly, “See. This wasn’t about us. It was never about us. We’re not like that. Those people, those people over there.
The ones who lied. It’s about them. Let me show you.”
And so they have, or at least have tried to.
Most folks at Langley disagree with the premise. They disagree with the report, its narrative, its method and its conclusions. And they especially disagree that all this is just about them. If it was just about them, congressional Democrat leadership would have begun their protest in 2002 when everyone was scared and not 2014 when they are not.
• Gen. Michael V. Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.